Lead a Dog's Life

Magnolia Pictures

White God (2015)

Kornél Mundruczó’s “White God” is a curious creature. Ostensibly, this is the tale of the fierce bond that binds the teenage Lili (played with impressive maturity by the elfin Zsófia Psotta) and her mongrel mutt Hagen (Luke and Body) together. However, Mr. Mundruczó envelops this story in a somewhat suffocating layer of allegorical social commentary that belies a considered intelligence, but ultimately results in a tonally uneven picture. That said, “White God” picked up the prized Un Certain Regard award at Cannes, rightly rewarding Mr. Mundruczó for his innovative and ambitious vision, which — while flawed — is at least a fiercely original piece of work.

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Cultural Inappropriation

BFI Film Festival 2014

Tokyo Tribe (2014)

Erstwhile purveyor of inventive Japanese fare Sion Sono follows up his subversive 2013 picture “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” with yet another dollop of ludicrous cinema. “Tokyo Tribe” is a manga-inspired world of hip-hop gangsters and comic-book villains; grimy, corrupt and fueled by blood, money and women. Mr. Sono’s vision is singular; and his highly stylized tale plays out as a hip-hop musical number, a trope that is as deliriously mad as it sounds: think “The Warriors” meets “West Side Story” with a dash of “Sin City” thrown in for good measure.

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Creature Discomforts

Carole Bethuel/Le Pacte

Wild Life (2014)

The fascinating true story of Xavier Fortin — a father who took to the land with his two young sons for more than a decade — forms the basis of Cédric Kahn’s latest picture “Wild Life.” Mr. Fortin — here portrayed as Philippe “Paco” Fournier with great guile by Gallic stalwart Mathieu Kassovitz — is a desperate father to three sons, faced with the dismal prospect of a failing relationship and the death of his vision for an idealistic life living off the land. Mr. Kahn wisely steers clear of moralizing and judgement, instead choosing to focus on the nature and reality of Paco’s desire for a pure existence and upbringing for his boys and the circumstances that led to their flight to the hills.

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Breaking a Code of Conduct

Jack English/The Weinstein Company

The Imitation Game (2014)

There is something disconcertingly unsatisfying in the fact that the complex life of master mathematician, cryptanalyst and key figure in the outcome of World War II, Alan Turing (played by a magnificent Benedict Cumberbatch), is relayed here in such formulaic fashion. Turing was an enigmatic man: fiercely intelligent but emotionally distant, impersonal and difficult — yet his very genius relied on him being just so. While Morten Tyldum does attempt to unravel Turing’s tale and character by touching on his formative years at school and his ultimately tragic postwar fate, the focus here is on Turing’s work at Bletchley Park during World War II and his pioneering work on cracking the Enigma code.

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In the Pits

John Sturrock/Bad Bonobo

Still the Enemy Within (2014)

The British miners’ strike of 1984 to ’85 was a wholly divisive and socially transformative industrial action that threatened to paralyze the country and bring down Margaret Thatcher’s government. It was the last great battle cry of the socialist unions, fed up with the Tory diktat of rampant privatization of British industry but ultimately one that served to signal the end of overt unionist power. The struggle was pitched as “Arthur’s army” (after influential National Union of Mineworkers’ leader Arthur Scargill) versus the enemy within, a vicious moniker coined by Thatcher to describe the striking miners. “Still the Enemy Within” is the unashamed and wholly single-minded story from the miners’ perspective of those dark days that came to define Thatcher’s decade-long reign and that changed a country forever.

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The Help

Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures

The Equalizer (2014)

Proponents of above-average 1980s TV shows may recall a gruff and mysterious Edward Woodward in a stellar turn as shady agency-type Robert McCall meting out deserved vengeance on all manner of ne’er-do-wells. Its premise revolved around McCall — haunted by his past life — offering to put things right by helping those in need against forces of evil, in effect equalizing rights and wrongs. It was an interesting concept, legitimizing violent revenge by instilling its hero with a fierce moral compass. No wonder then that the show has been afforded a big screen adaptation, bought into the 21st century by “Training Day” tag team Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington.

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Double Exposure

Grand Central (2013)

57th BFI London Film Festival

Love is often portrayed as a dangerous game; and yet by setting "Grand Central" against the unconventional backdrop of a nuclear power plant, Rebecca Zlotowski veils her picture in a darker and infinitely more stifling fog of threat. The seeming sterility of the plant lies in stark contrast to the beauty of the burgeoning and forbidden relationship that develops between Gary (Tahar Rahim), a carefree plant rookie desperate to kick out on his own, and confident Karole (an alluring Léa Seydoux), erstwhile fiancée of Gary’s colleague Toni (Denis Ménochet).

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Life Swap

Like Father, Like Son (2013)

Sundance Selects

Family lies at the center of much of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s work. It’s at once the most personal and familiar subject matter, but is one that is riddled with nuance and unbounded complexity. Nature versus nurture is a story as old as the hills, but rarely has it been told with such heartfelt craft as in Mr. Kore-eda’s latest picture, “Like Father, Like Son.”

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A Psychedelic Trip, Down History Lane

A Field in England (2013)

Dean Rogers/Picturehouse Entertainment

Ben Wheatley has steadily established himself as a director of considerable craft, boundless diversity and unabashed ambition; seemingly as comfortable helming an occultist horror thriller (“Kill List”) as he is a pitch-black comedy (“Sightseers”). For his fourth full feature, Mr. Wheatley turns his hand to 17th-century English Civil War psychedelia with “A Field in England,” a baffling but brave sojourn into the fantastical.

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Circle of Hellish Friends

Evil Dead (2013)

TriStar Pictures

Sam Raimi’s 1981 picture, “The Evil Dead,” is rightly regarded as a classic of the horror genre: a pitch-perfect, no-budget thrill ride suffused with terror yet tinged with knowing humor. Fede Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” is less a remake or sequel and more of homage to Mr. Raimi’s pioneering spirit and in fact to horror as a whole. Given the nature of this beast, it is wholly derivative; yet the fact that it still delivers what feels like a fresh take on a genre that has veered toward either torture or the paranormal in recent years is welcome and — in these meta, post-“The Cabin in the Woods” times — that is an impressive feat in itself.

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